Happy Teen Lit Day! To celebrate young adult books, there’s something happening today called “Rock the Drop.” Basically, take a teen book and leave it in a public place for someone to find, take home and enjoy. What better way to spread a love of reading (and Steampunk.) Details here. If you rock the drop steampunk style, please email me pictures! If I get at least FIFTEEN pictures TODAY, I will give away my authographed galley of Gail Carriger’s HEARTLESS (which isn’t out yet, and aparently these babies are rare). The galley will be given to one of the people who shared the love of reading by “rocking the drop.” The winner will be chosen by the tot. But I need at least fifteen enteries, so tell your friends. Since there’s not a ton of Steampunk YA/MG, any Steampunk book will work, open internationally. You don’t have to live in the US to spread the love of reading. In fact, there may be an extra prize for furthest drop…
Mike Resnick has won an impressive five Hugos and been nominated for twenty-nine more. He has sold sixty-three novels and more than two hundred short stories. He has edited fifty anthologies. His work spans from satirical fair such as his Lucifer Jones adventures, to weighty examinations of morality and culture, as evidenced by his brilliant tales of Kirinyaga—which, with 67 major and minor awards and nominations to date, is the most honored series of stories in the history of science fiction. Visit him at www.mikeresnick.com .
Writing the Weird West
by Mike Resnick
I had sold more than 60 science fiction novels and 250 short stories, but I had never written any steampunk when Lou Anders, my editor at Pyr, asked me to do a Weird Western with steampunk overtones back in late 2009.
All my adult life I had wanted to write a novel about Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo, bitter rivals who happened to be the only two college-educated gunslingers in the West (Ringo majored in the classics, Holliday minored in them), and while this wasn’t quite the novel I’d had in mind, I couldn’t pass up the chance to write about them in The Buntline Special.
But of course, nothing about Holliday and Ringo was the least bit steampunkish. (By the way, I’m using the word “steampunk” because that’s the accepted term. I don’t think I agree with it, since any punk who shows up in a Resnick story dies young and unmourned.)
So I needed a justification to insert the steampunk elements, and since this was a Weird Western, as much fantasy as science fiction, I came up with the premise that the United States as a nation stops at the Mississippi River in 1881, its western expansion halted by the magical power of the Indian medicine men.
Who would the United States government turn to in order to come up with some methodology to combat the magic? Given the dates of his major breakthroughs, it had to be Thomas Alva Edison.
So I moved Edison out to Tombstone, Arizona in 1880 at government expense. Then I asked myself: what would Tombstone look like after he’d been there for awhile?
Well, for one thing, the streets would be illuminated by electric lights as night. So would the houses, the saloons, the dance halls, and just about everything else. But what else would Tom – he’d never be called “Thomas” in a town like Tombstone – do?
Well, for one thing, most of my principals lived by their weapons. Historically Ned Buntline commissioned the Colt Company to make the Buntline Special – but with a genius like Edison out there, why wouldn’t he go to Tom instead? After all, a Colt pistol, even with the 12-inch barrel Buntline ordered, just fires bullets. But what could an electrical genius design in the way of a hand weapon?
Then there would be primitive (by our standards) but wildly advanced (for 1880) security systems. Step on a porch that was properly wired and a cowboy or gunman would set off alarm. And Tom did a lot of work with photography in the 1870s, so he’d probably add a hidden camera or two that would be activated by an electrical impulse caused when an unwanted visitor put his weight on a hidden wire.
The days of Billy the Kid or Doc Holliday being broken out of jail by their confederates would be relegated to works of fiction. Tom would rig an electric charge into the metal bars of the jail. Try to free your criminal cohort and you’d still have one hand left to sign your name.
Because this was a work of imaginative fiction, I felt I could get just a little far-fetched and esoteric, having Tom design some very lifelike and functional prosthetic limbs, since many arm and leg wounds required amputation at that time — and eventually he designs some fully functional robotic prostitutes, which lead to some moral (but non-electronic) dilemmas.
He’d have to team up with someone who could construct a horseless stagecoach to his specifications, but Tom certainly was enough of an electrical genius to create a motor to power one once it was built.
More? There’d be electrified wires around a corral to give cattle or horses a mild shock if they tried to get out. (I had the same thing when my daughter had a horse while she was growing up. One little jolt and he learned instantly.)
Because this was a novel about Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo, I never got into the wonders Tom could bring to the frontier kitchen of the 1880s, but there’s no question that he would have revolutionized it. The photograph was a fait accompli, and so was the phonograph, so there was no need to expand upon them. Ditto his very early work with the fluroscope.
Because steampunk seems to require a lot of brass to appeal to its readership, I had Tom form a partnership with Ned Buntline, who historically was just a self-promoting dime novel writer and publicist, but in this universe has created a form of super-hardened and impenetrable brass, and brought many of Tom’s creations off the drawing board and into actual physical being. And having changed Buntline’s occupation, I had Tom design lightweight body armor for Doc and the Earps before the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which Ned then created.
Nothing except the robots was extrapolated that wasn’t at least theoretically possible, given the amazing Mr. Edison’s historical accomplishments, and it gave a very different and steampunkish flavor to a town that has lived a lot longer in fact and in legend than any of the participants could have imagined.
– Mike Resnick
We have three copies of The Buntline Special to give away to three lucky posters (open internatually). What component of the Wild West would you like to see most in a Weird West story?